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Kenyans flock back to traditional leafy vegetables
Nairobi, Kenya
March 20, 2006

Sales of traditional African leafy vegetables at supermarkets in Nairobi have rocketed an astonishing 1100 per cent in the past two years. Informal market sales have increased too, as supermarkets sales have legitimized products long viewed as ‘backward’ by shoppers.

“This is a marvellous result,” said Emile Frison, Director General of IPGRI, who is in Curitiba, Brazil for a meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Frison will be presenting results from a consultation to inform the CBD’s initiative to make more use of biodiversity for food and nutrition.

“IPGRI launched this project to market and promote African leafy vegetables in 2003,” Frison explained, “but we never dared to dream it would be so successful. It clearly demonstrates that the world really needs to take more notice of agricultural biodiversity in meeting the needs of poor and hungry people.”

Stephen Kimondo is a grower who has built a thriving business, which employs several of his neighbours, supplying supermarkets with high-quality traditional leafy vegetables.

Growers around Nairobi, who took part in the project and were trained to produce high-quality food for the supermarkets, have seen their incomes rise up to twenty fold.

“We have monitored 300 farming families,“ said Patrick Maundu, the project coordinator. “The produce they deliver has increased from 31 to 400 tons a month, and demand is still far from being met.”

Family Concern Inc, a Kenyan NGO, promoted traditional vegetables – which people had abandoned because they were seen as backward and difficult to prepare – by working with Uchumi Supermarkets to give shoppers colourful recipe leaflets and information about how traditional vegetables provide better nutrition.

“Since Uchumi started selling traditional vegetables, the three other leading supermarkets in Nairobi have joined in,” Maundu explained.

Mary King’ori, a sales assistant at one of those supermarkets, Tusker Mattress in Buruburu neighbourhood, says that “those in this business are minting money”. Customers prefer the new products too.

Lucy Wanjiru, a 27-year old shopper at Tusker Mattress likes the fact that she can get traditional vegetables there now. “They started stocking traditional leafy vegetables only about a year ago,” she said. “Before that I used to buy my vegetables in the outdoor market.” Wanjiru accepts that she has to pay a bit more. “Prices are a few shillings more here, but I do not mind because I am assured of quality.”

Mary Wangari, another Tusker sales assistant, has her own measure of unmet demand for traditional leafy vegetables. “Often I throw away bunches of kale or cabbage because they have been on the shelves too long. But I never have to throw away the leafy vegetables, because nothing is left of the stock by the time we close in the evening.”

Maundu says that he is seeing “a ripple effect in other cities and the informal markets. Shoppers see these things in the supermarkets and that makes them desirable.” IPGRI and partners are working with farmers to increase the quality of produce in the street markets too.

“This just shows what can be achieved,” Frison said. “Working together with farmers, nutritionists, marketers and others we can help people rediscover the nutritional value of their traditional diets. And the benefits flow to everyone involved. It really is time that policy-makers started to take agricultural biodiversity seriously as a source of good food, higher incomes and better health.”
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